"We don't do the greatest job in collecting restitution," acknowledged Bill Penny, district manager for Multnomah County's Department of Community Justice.
Following years of budget cuts, parole and probation officers have made the collection of restitution a low priority. In Multnomah County, for example, only 9 percent of court-ordered restitution was paid by medium- and high-risk offenders in cases that closed between mid-June and mid-December 2011, the ODOC found. That translates into $87 million in unpaid restitution that Multnomah County crime victims likely will never see. Similarly, Washington County victims are owed $38.2 million and offenders in Clackamas County owe $29.9 million.
Statewide, $426.5 million in unpaid restitution is owed by criminal defendants, dating back decades.
Bob Robison, a former Multnomah County victim services manager, said the problem stems from a lack of manpower to enforce restitution orders. Although he once made restitution collection a priority, his position was eliminated in 2008.
Parole and probation officers are expected to establish restitution payment plans, stated Carl Goodman, assistant director of adult services for Multnomah County's Department of Community Justice. Some parole and probation officers ask for pay stubs if the offender is employed, he said, but others don't. In any event, nobody verifies the financial information self-reported by parolees and probationers.
Clackamas County is one of the most successful Oregon counties at collecting restitution, thanks to a restitution court created in 2004. The court was initially set up with three clerks and a judge but now has only two clerks. When an offender misses a restitution payment or two, a clerk flags the case and calls them before Judge Kenneth Stewart, who holds hearings twice a month.
Stewart questions the offender and works out a restitution payment plan. "We want them to pay as much as possible to get the victim taken care of," he said. "But sometimes you can't do it."
Even with a restitution court, only about 25 percent of Clackamas County's medium- and high-risk offenders pay their restitution, according to the ODOC. Nevertheless, Clackamas County is viewed as Oregon's success story. Yamhill County followed its lead, creating a restitution court of its own, and Multnomah County wanted to do so but couldn't. "We were hot on the idea," said Goodman. "But we didn't have the minimum staffing to get it going." Flooded with victim complaints, however, Multnomah County appears to be prioritizing restitution by recruiting a full-time position devoted exclusively to restitution collection.
In January 2012, the state funded a 30-month pilot program that will provide extra staff to collect restitution payments in Multnomah, Lane, Jackson, Jefferson and Crook counties, at a cost of $1.8 million. Multnomah County also maintains a "restitution garden" next to a farm in Troutdale, where juvenile offenders grow crops as part of their restitution requirements. The vegetables from the garden are sold at farmers' markets and a café at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home, to satisfy some of the juveniles' restitution orders.
One thorny issue involving restitution payments involves cases where the offender receives pension funds from the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). In April 2013, The Oregonian profiled a case involving Patrick Roman Garcia, 64, who received a 25-year sentence for child sex abuse. A former state employee, he was ordered to pay restitution to his victim; however, his only income was from PERS.
Garcia refused to make restitution payments from his retirement funds and the Oregon Department of Justice took his side, based on a determination that PERS income could not be taken to satisfy payments to third parties, such as through garnishment, judgments or restitution. This presented an apparent conflict with the state's constitution, which says victims have a right to "prompt" restitution payments.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum did not comment on the matter, but Garcia's victim and her mother appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court to resolve the issue of whether PERS funds can be seized to satisfy restitution orders. The Court declined to hear the case.
"It's very frustrating," said attorney Erin Olson, who represented the victim. "The Supreme Court has effectively cut off any hope [the family has] in paying for this little girl's counseling."
As budgets are slashed across Oregon and the rest of the nation due to the lackluster economy, it is doubtful that counties – especially small, rural ones – will invest the funds and staffing resources necessary to make restitution collection a priority over the long term. Consequently, a large portion of restitution orders will remain unpaid.
Sources: The Oregonian, www.katu.com, https://web.multco.us
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login